Monday, September 22, 2014

Backpacking Gear List (Summer 2014)

Well, I think we've finally done it. After countless hours of research, budgeting almost four months' worth of paychecks (and a few mistakes), we finally have everything we need to go backpacking.

Leave it to us to pick a hobby that requires enough gear to outfit an army. And you can't accumulate gear as you go, buying a little bit here and there. With backpacking, you need everything from the start. Sure, you can make sacrifices, but is it worth it? A pile of blankets will never be as warm as a proper sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Trust me, we've tried.

We are not beginning hikers, but we are beginning backpackers. There is an art to getting everything you need while keeping it light, and more importantly, affordable. We didn't want to go the ultra-cheap route because we wanted our gear to last and we wanted stuff we were excited to use. We also didn't want to go the ultra-expensive route because we are not bazillionaires and hiking is not our only hobby. But using gear lists really helped show the premium lightweight gear versus the great deals that are out there, and we were able to find something in the middle that worked for us.

I'm sure this list will change in the future, once we have been able to trail-test everything several times to see what worked and what didn't. But hopefully someone else will find this useful, just as I found other gear lists useful.

Any additional thoughts about the items follow after the lists. Prices reflect what we actually paid, not the full price. There are a few instances where Phil and I preferred different items, and I included that. Unless noted, assume we both have the same gear. A tip for buying discounted gear at Dick's, REI, or EMS: wait for sales around national holidays. We bought our packs during the REI Labor Day sale and saved $150. I did not include stuff sacks in these lists because I am not a gram weenie.

Pack, Shelter, and Sleep System (The Big 3)

Eureka tent components, sleeping bag and pad, and both packs shown.

Tent: Eureka Sunriver 2P $120 (5 lbs 3 oz total)
Lantern: Stowaway Collapsible Lantern $20 (8 oz)
Groundcloth: Ultrasac 55 gal. Trash Bag $20/box (2 oz)
    Phil's Portion - Main Vestibule and Poles
    My Portion - Stakes, Rainfly, Lantern, and Groundcloth

Sleeping Bag: Teton Trailhead 20 $50 (2.9 lbs)
Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite $40 (14 oz)
Compression Sack for Bag: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil 15L $33 (3 oz)

My Pack: REI Flash 45 $90 (2 lbs 3 oz)
Phil's Pack: Deuter Aircontact 65+10 $130 (6 lbs)
Pack Liner: trash bag from home $0 (0.5 oz)


PACKS. I felt very strongly about having a lightweight pack, and I didn't want a sleeping bag compartment. Phil didn't want to spend a lot of money and he didn't want something brightly colored. We were lucky to find that Deuter bag at such a good discount.

The guy at REI was shocked that I wanted a 50L pack for overnight camping. He kept insisting that the Flash was a day pack. How much stuff do you need for day hiking?? Maybe for climbing gear, but not for hiking. Everything (excluding the sleeping pad, but that's normal) fits inside my pack without a problem. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to strap the sleeping pad to the outside of my pack yet (the square shape is more than a bit annoying) but I'm sure I can work something out.

Future gear wishlist includes an airmat and a specialist tent. Maybe a camp pillow. And a badass sleeping bag that compresses to the size of a cantaloupe.

A pretty awesome update: While getting this post together, I won an ultralight tent from! I'm super excited to try it out. Not only will we have a much lighter tent to carry, but we'll have a spare tent in case we want to go backpacking with friends. The only downside (and it's not really a downside, the tent was free!) is that we'll have to purchase the accessory tent poles because neither of us carry trekking poles. We can pitch it between two trees without poles, but how often can you find the two perfect trees? You can read SectionHiker's review of the Big Agnes Scout 2P tent here, and see the specs and purchase the tent here.


My setup.

My Setup
Packed away.
    Pot (with two cups): Stanley Adventure Cook Set $25 ( oz)
    Stove: Esbit Titanium Folding Stove $15 (0.4 oz)
    Silicon Handle: Lodge Silicone Hot Handle Holder $5 (3 oz)
    Windscreen: super fancy tin foil and paperclip $0 (0.5 oz)

Phil's Setup
    Pot, Stove, Windscreen: Esbit Solid Fuel Stove and Cookset $30 (7 oz)

Each setup also contains:
    Coozie: homemade $8 for sun shade, enough to make many (1 oz)
    Firestarter: Mini BIC Lighter
    Dishsoap: Hotel bottle with natural dish soap
    Sponge: 1/2 scrubby sponge with sponge part sliced to 1/2 thickness


NOTES. Both stoves use Esbit fuel cubes. We wanted something that was light, easy to restock, and not fussy. Our cooking is going to be simple for a while, either over the fire, boiling water, or no-cook granola bars. The cubes smell a bit like bad fish, but keep them wrapped up in a plastic bag and it's fine. Eventually we'll both switch to Snow Peak Ti mug/pot combos with either hot lips, squishy bowls, or camp cups, but the Ti pots are quite expensive. The biggest requirement for any cooking system (in my eyes) is that it all packs away inside itself.

It's funny how strongly we both feel about our separate set ups. I really love mine and dislike Phil's, and Phil really loves his and dislikes mine. But hey, whatever works!

The All-Inclusive Ditty Bag

Ditty Bag: homemade $3
Utensil: Light My Fire Spork $3 (because it doesn't fit inside the stoves)

Hand Sanitizer: CVS Brand 1 oz Pocket Spray
Travel toothbrush and a straw-pack of toothpaste tucked inside $2
Toilet paper in snack-sized ziploc
Lady Hygiene: Summer's Eve Travel Wipes $3
Deodorant: scooped into small tubs
Bug Spray: We have Sawyer Maxi-Deet, but I prefer this. Also this
Sunscreen: Banana Boat Sport Spray $2

2 butterfly closures
1 fabric BandAid, for the stupid easy stuff
1 sterile non-stick pad
1 roll athletic tape
wound irrigation syringe (most pharmacies will give you a couple without the needle for free, just ask)
- Medications (in pill packs):
          2 dipenhydramine (anti-histamine)
          4 lopermaride (anti-diarrhea) - Found it at Target for the cheapest.
          10 ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory)
          6 Tums (trail farts are a thing)
          2 emergency aspirin
- Creams (in straw packs):
          Burn and Sting Relief
          Benadryl Itch Relief
          Bacitracin Antibiotic Cream

Water Treatment: Sawyer Inline Mini Filter $25 (2 oz)
Repair: duct tape rolled onto wooden skewer
Temperature: MCR Mylar Blanket
Light: Tasco 250 Lumen Tactical Flashlight $20 for 3
Tinder: cotton balls coated in vaseline (can also be used for first aid)
Husky multitool
50' paracord
 - Epic Altoids Survival Kit
          razor blade
          knot-tying guide
          Mini fishing kit: 3 hooks, 3 sinkers, 15 ft fishing line (all in a straw pack)
          Needle and 15 ft heavy duty thread
          Backup Water Purification: 5 packs MSR Aquatabs
          Backup Light: Pico Zipper Flashlight
          Backup Fire Starter: Firesteel, with plastic top sawed off
          Another Backup Fire Starter: 4 storm matches in sealed straws, with striker
          emergency whistle
          large nail
          another fabric BandAid
          pocket cable saw
          button compass
          extra hair tie and two bobby pins
          3 safety pins
          pair of ear plugs

Expanded view of Altoids survival kit.
Altoids survival kit all packed up.

DITTY BAG. My ditty bag is 8 x 3.5 x 3.5, and it cost me about $6 to make two bags with enough ripstop nylon leftover to make two more bags. I started with an 11.5 x 14 piece of ripstop. Make sure to melt all cut edges of the nylon with a lighter to prevent fraying. They turned out really nice!

When day hiking everything goes into the ditty bag, but for backpacking it will be easier to keep the non-smellable things in the lid pocket of our packs, like the toilet paper and sanitizer (for obvious reasons) but also the flashlight, water filter, rope, and survival stuff. Then the ditty bag can go whole-hog into the bear bag at night to keep the smellables (first aid kit and soap) away from critters.

FIRST AID KIT. Amounts listed are for a 1-2 day trip, for one person. I keep it in a freezer quart-sized ziploc, which is bigger and sturdier than needed but will keep everything dry, and the bag can come in handy for more uses than storage.

BANDAGES. The athletic tape is heavy and bulky, but it can be use to stabilize a strain (mostly ankles or wrists) or as a bandage when the sticky sides are pressed together. It's clean, and you can make a bandage out of any shape. I still carry a few bandages because they are nearly weightless and can come in handy. If you've ever had a large scrape or burn, you know that nonstick bandages are a godsend.

LIGHT. These flashlights are heavy, but bright and sturdy and the batteries last a long time. Good if you need to pitch camp or hike in the dark. Will blind you for a midnight pee trip, though. Eventually I want to get a headlamp that includes a red LED that won't wreck your night vision or disturb other campers, but this isn't a priority.

SOAP. I really like the idea of using Doc Bronner's All-In-One soap for everything (toothpaste, dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, etc), but probably won't buy it until we are doing trips long enough for me to want to wash my hair. I'll put it in eye dropper bottles.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cool things - With an Update

Paper is not dead.

Franklin Ship Discovered. Time to read The Terror? It's been on my TBR list for a while! But it's a BIG book.

3D-Printed Prosthetic Hands Turn Little Kids Into Superheroes. Geeks are the best kind of people. is doing the SNAP Challenge this month, challenging herself to eat with $4 a day or less, the amount allotted to those receiving SNAP benefits. Here is her week 1 summary post. I thought it was quite interesting! Stay tuned to her site for more updates and recipes.

Cats make everything better.

Updated to add: You really can't miss this.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I Drank the Kool-Aid: An Announcement

We were hiking at the Pinnacle (a great hike if you live in driving distance!) and were investigating the cave that goes through the side of the cliff face and then back up a thirty foot chimney. It was awesome! But the SPIDERS, man, the spiders! And there was no way in hell I was going further into the crawlspace that started about fifty feet in. I'll dangle my feet off the side of the cliff and rock-scramble till the day I die, but I am not jamming myself between two rocks. WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT. Climbing up the chimney was a lot of fun, you had to put a foot on either side, and at one point Phil was balancing his weight with his head. It was our twelve-year anniversary.

Yup. Twelve years with this dude.

We look like such a typical couple. It feels like the complete opposite of typical. Wearing a ring has been prompting all sorts of life-history questions, from coworkers, strangers, etc. It's weird having so much attention suddenly brought to the relationship when Phil has been such a bedrock of my life for such a long time. How do I explain twelve years of emotions? Twelve years of hard work? (And it is work, don't lie to yourself. But it's work with great rewards.) Boyfriend never seemed to carry sufficient weight whenever I explained our relation. Fiance doesn't either, to be honest. How about The person who energizes my soul and challenges my brain and strains my patience to the absolute breaking point but always makes up for it by being generally awesome. Too dramatic? Nah.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

August Book Reviews

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

If you only read one book this summer, it should be this. Absolutely blew my mind. And it was my third attempt at it, too, not because the beginning is slow (it sucked me in immediately) but because I wasn't in the right place to read it before. Old magic (jinnis and demons) mixes with new magic (computer hacking) mixes with romance and adventure and Middle Eastern culture. I loved every bit of it, and after reading the copy from my library I immediately went out and bought my own. I had a stranger come up to me on train platform while I was reading to tell me how much she loved the book as well. Any book that gives you a heartfelt squee moment with a total stranger is something special.

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

Picked this up after Alif because I loved the Middle Eastern culture so much and I wanted more. I rarely say this about nonfiction books, but this was too short. I've tried looking for other books to explain Islam and the cultural differences between the US and the Middle East, but sadly I've come up short. Everything is either hokey or academic, nothing in between.

I loved seeing the differences between Egypt and America outlined here. Even though I live here, everything is so familiar that I never really thought about it. For instance, Egypt is very family-centric, parties and such are always full of cousins and aunts and uncles, but America considers close friends as family, something that was in contrast when the author and a family friend shared a hug and kiss hello.

I was also really intrigued with the ways she and her husband smoothed over the cultural differences. As someone newly thrown into the ridiculous hoops of this whole marriage business (paperwork is very likely the death of romance), I liked seeing how they meshed and clashed. I would have liked more detail about their conversations, arguments, and resolutions but this seemed like a topic where the author wanted her privacy. Fair enough. If you are interested in different cultures, definitely check this out. I'd love to read more fantasy books (and non-fantasy) with a Middle Eastern setting, especially by Middle Eastern authors. Any recommendations?

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

This book was nice and light while still managing to talk about academics and the science behind DNA and biology (and magic). A love story more than anything else, I enjoyed the research and the sojourn in France the best. It's Twilight for adults! But don't let that turn you off, I did enjoy it (people give Twilight way too bad a rap). I'll read the second one eventually, but I want a break first. This book was surprisingly dense to read for being such a light story. This is a great vacation book, if anyone has a summer vacation left!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cool videos

Jimmy Fallon and Adam Levine doing musical impressions.
Naked towel dance! Don't worry, it's safe for work.